It’s back on track for Kufri’s pony owners as snow draws tourists to Himachal
Hit by the lockdown, the pony owners hope to earn enough to repay loans, feed their animals and end Covid year on a better note.
Nine months after the Covid-19 outbreak, the tourist destination of Kufri, 15km from Shimla, is finally seeing signs of revival thanks to the recent spells of snowfall. It’s back to business for scores of pony owners, who were rendered jobless with the decline in tourism this year.
Kufri has been seeing a steady rush of tourists over the past five days since the latest spell of snow. The local economy is largely dependent on the tourist influx.
Kufri was a sleepy hamlet till Bollywood films shot here in the’60s and ’70s made its snow-covered slopes a popular tourist destination.
At present, there are an estimated 1,200 ponies engaged in giving joy rides to tourists. They make their way to Kufri from adjoining villages daily.
WORKED IN FIELDS FOR A LIVING
During the lockdown, most of the pony owners worked in fields and grew vegetables.
“The last nine months have been tough in Kufri. There was no work and it had become difficult to even buy fodder for the ponies,” says Kedar Kanwar, who heads the Ashwa Palak Pratyatak Sangh, a local group of 20 horse owners.
The summer months of May and June are the peak tourist season in Kufri followed by the winter months of November, December and January amid snowfall.
“The peak summer months went for a toss due to the lockdown. We hope to see better days now,” says Om Parkash, who hails from Jahu, a nearby village.
The owners who bought horses last year are the worst affected as they have not been able to repay loans raised for buying the ponies. “I bought a pony for ₹50,000 last year and I’ve not been able to pay the loan instalments as our source of income dried up. We hope business picks up now,” says Sohan Singh Thakur, the president of the Paryatan Ashv Malik Sudhar Sabha.
Photographers in Kufri too hope that the tourist influx will help revive their business.
NIGHT CURFEW A STUMBLING BLOCK
The pony owners say that the Himachal Pradesh government’s decision to impose night curfew to check the spread of Covid-19 has hit business.
“Not many tourists come to Kufri and those who do are in a rush to leave due to the night curfew. The government should lift the restrictions,” says Sanjay Sharma, who owns two horses and belongs to Munda Ghat.